It’s almost been a year since Prince Rogers Nelson passed away. He’d always been a fantastical, mysterious figure throughout his career, and you’d hear it in his music, see it in his videos, and at award shows.
I dare you not to drop your jaw when you watch him accept awards. His lore would only grow when Chappelle’s Show re-enacted that basketball story about him and when his friends recounted their favorite stories about him after his passing.
Among the vital Prince performances a person should watch, there are three that come to mind. The first would be when Prince debuted “Purple Rain,” which would be the exact version you hear on the record (albeit slightly edited for time). The second would be his cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” at Coachella 2008, which he infamously blocked on YouTube for years despite Radiohead asking him to keep it on there.
The third, of course, would be Prince’s halftime show at Super Bowl XLI.
This was on Feb. 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium — that’s right, the 10th anniversary is the day before this year’s Super Bowl; way to feel old. The game was between the Colts and my beloved (yet terribly flawed) Chicago Bears. The only things I remember from that game: It was raining that night, and then there was Devin Hester’s kickoff return. Then the Colts destroyed the Bears for the rest of the game (or did the Bears destroy themselves?)
And in the middle of all that, Prince’s love symbol lit up in the middle of a wet field. I was not a happy Bears fan that night, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t enjoying myself during the Prince show.
There is so much to love about Prince and the 12 minutes he’s given here. Let’s go track by track.
1. “We Will Rock You”
I don’t know if the lightning theme was added at the last minute, but it fit perfectly with both the weather and Prince’s clever sensibilities. Like, he probably told the producers hours before the game, “Oh, it’s raining? Give me some lightning.” Then he left a Prince-shaped cloud when producers weren’t looking. The use of Queen here was only partial, too. He didn’t sing any of the lyrics, but he used it in a different key as a starting point to one of his classics, “Let’s Go Crazy.”
2. “Let’s Go Crazy”
The love symbol stage lit up at this point, and of course he did his famous “Dearly Beloved” sermon. That’s when the party really started — the crowd rushed on the wet field while Prince sang and shredded, and it became more apparent just how wet the stage was. There was no roof protecting him, his band mates, and the dancers from the rain, and they were all playing with electric instruments and surrounded by wiring. But it did not faze any of them. Despite the rain, the show had to go on.
3. “1999/Baby I’m a Star” (ft. The Florida A&M University Marching 100 Band)
Oh snap, it’s “1999” time! Oh wait, that was actually a tease to “Baby I’m a Star.” But that’s OK, because that’s when the marching band came in, and it was a great addition to Prince’s band. This might be a weird thing to say because Prince had decades of experience performing on stage. But when I watch the performance now, I can’t help but be mesmerized by how he moved on stage. He had so much confidence in his dancing, his rapport with the crowd, and in his singing — you’ll notice he ad-libbed the line “Somebody take my picture with all this rain inside” without missing a beat. It was subtle, but it made you appreciate his musicianship.
4. “Proud Mary”
The halftime show was all Prince, but it was not entirely comprised of Prince songs. Of all the songs he performed, only three (or four if you count the “1999” teaser) were original. The rest were songs by people he genuinely enjoyed or was probably influenced by. Tina Turner was definitely one of them, and while most people know “Proud Mary” as her cover of the CCR original, Prince made it his own.
5. “All Along the Watchtower/Best of You”
The dance party slowed down at this point, but the intensity only built because this was Prince’s time to shred. The thing I noticed during this segment — aside from Prince melding the two songs together like a wizard — is that the mixing was totally in favor of Prince’s guitar. By that, I mean the sound of Prince’s guitar was slightly louder than the rest of his band. I wonder if that was by design, as if he wanted to remind the crowd at home just how brilliant of a guitarist he was. He could’ve done the whole show with no singing and just guitar solos, and I don’t think anyone would’ve hated it. He was that good.
6. “Purple Rain”
Even if it wasn’t raining, this was the essential Prince song to end the show — the only way a Prince halftime show could’ve ended. There are a couple of things I need to point out.
First, we have to address the silhouette moment.
To put this in context of why this was memorable, this halftime show was three years after Nipplegate. After that Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake controversy, the FCC was more serious in fining TV networks for “indecent” broadcasts, and the NFL was more cautious in hiring pop-driven musical acts. That’s why we had a stretch of Super Bowls, from 2005 to 2010, where the halftime shows were headlined by older acts like Paul McCartney and The Who. Not that they were bad choices, but I definitely don’t remember what any of those halftime shows looked like (except for Prince’s, of course.)
That’s why it was such a breath of fresh air to see a silhouetted Prince play his guitar like he was playing with his wee-wee. It’d been a while since we saw some sexual innuendo on live TV — when it came (ahem) to Prince, that was par for the course — especially for a massive event like the Super Bowl. Just look at him:
Second, Prince was 48 years old when he performed at the Super Bowl. You’d think, 24 years after the original recording, he wouldn’t be able to hit the closing “Purple Rain” high notes like he used to. But he hit those notes, and it felt good to hear them. “Triumphant” is the only word that comes to mind when that moment arrived.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of his death, there’s still so much to appreciate about him. There are probably more untold basketball stories out there for people to discover, definitely more unreleased tracks in his vault, and soon his music will be more widely available so new fans can enjoy him for what he made, for what he was.
Death is a natural part of life, the logical conclusion to every living thing. But it still sucks that he passed away at 57. It feels like we were robbed of whatever brilliance he had left in him — like he probably had two more decades to show us how to live life through music.
But there’s nearly 40 years’ worth of music that he gave us, countless hours captured on video, and for 12 minutes, he entertained a worldwide audience effortlessly. He wanted to have fun, and he wanted us to join him. For that, we are grateful.
Thank you, Prince. Rest in peace.